Another great turnout at the DataPhilly meetup last night. Was great to see all you random data nerds!

Code snippets to generate animated examples here.

Another great turnout at the DataPhilly meetup last night. Was great to see all you random data nerds!

Code snippets to generate animated examples here.

There was an amazing turnout at last night’s DataPhilly meetup (~200 people!). I was completely delighted by the turnout and people’s engagement level. Here are the slides of the talk I gave to set up the evening with a high-level introduction to machine learning.

@CjBayesian giving an awesome talk on #machinelearning at tonight’s dataphilly! pic.twitter.com/Hojn5t7tDl

— DataPhilly (@DataPhilly) February 19, 2016

The next DataPhilly meetup will feature a medley of machine-learning talks, including an Intro to ML from yours truly. Check out the speakers list and be sure to RSVP. Hope to see you there!

6:00 PM to 9:00 PM

**Speakers:**

- Corey Chivers
- Randy Olson
- Austin Rochford

**Abstract**: Corey will present a brief introduction to machine learning. In his talk he will demystify what is often seen as a dark art. Corey will describe how we “teach” machines to learn patterns from examples by breaking the process into its easy-to-understand component parts. By using examples from fields as diverse as biology, health-care, astrophysics, and NBA basketball, Corey will show how data (both big and small) is used to teach machines to predict the future so we can make better decisions.

**Bio**: Corey Chivers is a Senior Data Scientist at Penn Medicine where he is building machine learning systems to improve patient outcomes by providing real-time predictive applications that empower clinicians to identify at risk individuals. When he’s not pouring over data, he’s likely to be found cycling around his adoptive city of Philadelphia or blogging about all things probability and data at bayesianbiologist.com.

**Randy Olson** (University of Pennsylvania Institute for Biomedical Informatics):

**Automating data science through tree-based pipeline optimization**

**Abstract**: Over the past decade, data science and machine learning has grown from a mysterious art form to a staple tool across a variety of fields in business, academia, and government. In this talk, I’m going to introduce the concept of tree-based pipeline optimization for automating one of the most tedious parts of machine learning — pipeline design. All of the work presented in this talk is based on the open source Tree-based Pipeline Optimization Tool (TPOT), which is available on GitHub at https://github.com/rhiever/tpot.

**Bio**: Randy Olson is an artificial intelligence researcher at the University of Pennsylvania Institute for Biomedical Informatics, where he develops state-of-the-art machine learning algorithms to solve biomedical problems. He regularly writes about his latest adventures in data science at RandalOlson.com/blog, and tweets about the latest data science news at http://twitter.com/randal_olson.

**Abstract**: Bayesian optimization is a technique for finding the extrema of functions which are expensive, difficult, or time-consuming to evaluate. It has many applications to optimizing the hyperparameters of machine learning models, optimizing the inputs to real-world experiments and processes, etc. This talk will introduce the Gaussian process approach to Bayesian optimization, with sample code in Python.

**Bio**: Austin Rochford is a Data Scientist at Monetate. He is a former mathematician who is interested in Bayesian nonparametrics, multilevel models, probabilistic programming, and efficient Bayesian computation.

There’s a curious thing about unlikely independent events: no matter how rare, they’re most likely to happen right away.

**Let’s get hypothetical**

You’ve taken a bet that pays off if you guess the exact date of the next occurrence of a rare event (p = 0.0001 on any given day i.i.d). What day do you choose? In other words, what is the most likely day for this rare event to occur?

Setting aside for now why in the world you’ve taken such a silly sounding bet, it would seem as though a reasonable way to think about it would be to ask: what is the expected number of days until the event? That must be the best bet, right?

We can work out the expected number of days quite easily as 1/p = 10000. So using the logic of expectation, we would choose day 10000 as our bet.

Let’s simulate to see how often we would win with this strategy. We’ll simulate the outcomes by flipping a weighted coin until it comes out heads. We’ll do this 100,000 times and record how many flips it took each time.

The event occurred on day 10,000 exactly 35 times. However, if we look at a histogram of our simulation experiment, we can see that the time it took for the rare event to happen was more often short, than long. In fact, the event occurred 103 times on the very first flip (the most common Time to Event in our set)!

So from the experiment it would seem that the most likely amount of time to pass until the rare event occurs is 0. Maybe our hypothetical event was just not rare *enough*. Let’s try it again with p=0.0000001, or an event with a 1 in 1million chance of occurring each day.

While now our event is extremely unlikely to occur, it’s still *most likely* to occur right away.

**Existential Risk**

What does this all have to do with seizing the day? Everything we do in a given day comes with some degree of risk. The Stanford professor Ronald A. Howard conceived of a way of measuring the riskiness of various day-to-day activities, which he termed the **micromort**. One micromort is a unit of risk equal to p = 0.000001 (1 in a million chance) of death. We are all subject to a baseline level of risk in micromorts, and additional activities may add or subtract from that level (skiing, for instance adds 0.7 micromorts per day).

While minimizing the risks we assume in our day-to-day lives can increase our expected life span, the most likely exact day of our demise is always our next one. So *carpe diem*!!

Post Script:

Don’t get too freaked out by all of this. It’s just a bit of fun that comes from viewing the problem in a very specific way. That is, as a question of which exact day is most likely. The much more natural way to view it is to ask, what is the relative probability of the unlikely event occurring tomorrow vs * any other day but tomorrow*. I leave it to the reader to confirm that for events with

The Annual Conference on Neural Information Processing Systems (NIPS) has recently listed this year’s accepted papers. There are 403 paper titles listed, which made for great morning coffee reading, trying to pick out the ones that most interest me.

Being a machine learning conference, it’s only reasonable that we apply a little machine learning to this (decidedly _small_) data.

Building off of the great example code in a post by Jordan Barber on Latent Dirichlet Allocation (LDA) with Python, I scraped the paper titles and built an LDA topic model with 5 topics. All of the code to reproduce this post is available on github. Here are the top 10 most probable words from each of the derived topics:

0 | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | |
---|---|---|---|---|---|

0 | learning | learning | optimization | learning | via |

1 | models | inference | networks | bayesian | models |

2 | neural | sparse | time | sample | inference |

3 | high | models | stochastic | analysis | networks |

4 | stochastic | non | model | data | deep |

5 | dimensional | optimization | convex | inference | learning |

6 | networks | algorithms | monte | spectral | fast |

7 | graphs | multi | carlo | networks | variational |

8 | optimal | linear | neural | bandits | neural |

9 | sampling | convergence | information | methods | convolutional |

Normally, we might try to attach some kind of label to each topic using our beefy human brains and subject matter expertise, but I didn’t bother with this — nothing too obvious stuck out at me. If you think that you have appropriate names for them feel free to let me know. Given that we are only working with the titles (no abstracts or full paper text), I think that there aren’t obvious human-interpretable topics jumping out. But let’s not let that stop us from proceeding.

We can also represent the inferred topics with the much maligned, but handy-dandy wordcloud visualization:

Since we are modeling the paper title generating process as a probability distribution of topics, each of which is a probability distribution of words, we can use this generating process to suggest keywords for each title. These keywords may or may not show up in the title itself. Here are some from the first 10 titles:

================ Double or Nothing: Multiplicative Incentive Mechanisms for Crowdsourcing Generated Keywords: [u'iteration', u'inference', u'theory'] ================ Learning with Symmetric Label Noise: The Importance of Being Unhinged Generated Keywords: [u'uncertainty', u'randomized', u'neural'] ================ Algorithmic Stability and Uniform Generalization Generated Keywords: [u'spatial', u'robust', u'dimensional'] ================ Adaptive Low-Complexity Sequential Inference for Dirichlet Process Mixture Models Generated Keywords: [u'rates', u'fast', u'based'] ================ Covariance-Controlled Adaptive Langevin Thermostat for Large-Scale Bayesian Sampling Generated Keywords: [u'monte', u'neural', u'stochastic'] ================ Robust Portfolio Optimization Generated Keywords: [u'learning', u'online', u'matrix'] ================ Logarithmic Time Online Multiclass prediction Generated Keywords: [u'complexity', u'problems', u'stein'] ================ Planar Ultrametric Rounding for Image Segmentation Generated Keywords: [u'deep', u'graphs', u'neural'] ================ Expressing an Image Stream with a Sequence of Natural Sentences Generated Keywords: [u'latent', u'process', u'stochastic'] ================ Parallel Correlation Clustering on Big Graphs Generated Keywords: [u'robust', u'learning', u'learning']

While some titles are strongly associated with a single topic, others seem to be generated from more even distributions over topics than others. Paper titles with more equal representation over topics could be considered to be, in some way, more *interdisciplinary,* or at least, *intertopicular* (yes, I just made that word up). To find these papers, we’ll find which paper titles have the highest information entropy in their inferred topic distribution.

Here are the top 10 along with their associated entropies:

So it looks like by this method, the ‘Where are they looking’ has the highest entropy as a result of topic uncertainty, more than any real multi-topic content.

A friend of mine just alerted me to a story on NPR describing a prize on offer from Warren Buffett and Quicken Loans. The prize is a billion dollars (1B USD) for correctly predicting all 63 games in the men’s Division I college basketball tournament this March. The facebook page announcing the contest puts the odds at 1:9,223,372,036,854,775,808, which they note “may vary depending upon the knowledge and skill of entrant”.

Being curious, I thought I’d see what the assumptions were that went into that number. It would make sense to start with the assumption that you don’t know a lick about college basketball and you just guess using a coin flip for every match-up. In this scenario you’re pretty bad, but you are no worse than random. If we take this assumption, we can calculate the odds as 1/(0.5)^63. To get precision down to a whole integer I pulled out trusty bc for the heavy lifting:

$ echo "scale=50; 1/(0.5^63)" | bc 9223372036854775808.000000

Well, that was easy. So if you were to just guess randomly, your odds of winning the big prize would be those published on the contest page. We can easily calculate the expected value of entering the contest as P(win)*prize, or 9,223,372,036ths of a dollar (that’s 9 nano dollars, if you’re paying attention). You’ve literally already spent that (and then some) in opportunity cost sunk into the time you are spending thinking about this contest and reading this post (but read on, ’cause it’s fun!).

But of course, you’re cleverer than that. You know everything about college basketball – or more likely if you are reading this blog – you have a kickass predictive model that is going to up your game and get your hands into the pocket of the Oracle from Omaha.

What level of predictiveness would you need to make this bet worth while? Let’s have a look at the expected value as a function of our individual game probability of being correct.

And if you think that you’re *really* good, we can look at the 0.75 to 0.85 range:

So it’s starting to look enticing, you might even be willing to take off work for a while if you thought you could get your model up to a consistent 85% correct game predictions, giving you an expected return of ~$35,000. A recent paper found that even after observing the first 40 scoring events, the outcome of NBA games is only predictable at 80%. In order to be eligible to win, you’ve obviously got to submit your picks *before* the playoff games begin, but even at this herculean level of accuracy, the expected value of an entry in the contest plummets down to $785.

Those are the odds for an individual entrant, but what are the chances that Buffet and co will have to pay out? That, of course, depends on the number of entrants. Lets assume that the skill of all entrants is the same, though they all have unique models which make different predictions. In this case we can get the probability of at *least one of them* hitting it big. It will be the complement of *no one* winning. We already know the odds for a single entrant with a given level of accuracy, so we can just take the probability that each one doesn’t win, then take 1 minus that value.

Just as we saw that the expected value is very sensitive to the predictive accuracy of the participant, so too is the probability that the prize will be awarded at all. If 1 million super talented sporting sages with 80% game-level accuracy enter the contest, there will only be a slightly greater than 50% chance of anyone actually winning. If we substitute in a more reasonable (but let’s face it, still wildly high) figure for participants’ accuracy of 70%, the chance becomes only 1 in 5739 (0.017%) that the top prize will even be awarded even with a 1 million strong entrant pool.

tl;dr You’re not going to win, but you’re still going to play.

If you want to reproduce the numbers and plots in this post, check out this gist.

**auto·di·dact*** n.
*A self-taught person.

From Greek

+

**sim·u·late** *v.
*To create a representation or model of (a physical system or particular situation, for example).

From Latin

=

(If you can get past the mixing of Latin and Greek roots)

**sim·u· di·dactic **

———————————————————————

This concept has been floating around in my head for a little while. I’ve written before on how I believe that simulation can be used to improve one’s understanding of just about anything, but have never had a nice shorthand for this process.

**Simudidactic inquiry** is the process of understanding aspects of the world by abstracting them into a computational model, then conducting experiments in this model world by changing the underlying properties and parameters. In this way, one can ask questions like:

- What type of observations might we make if
*x*were true? - If my model of the process is accurate, can I recapture the underlying parameters given the type of observations I can make in the real world? How often will I be wrong?
- Will I be able to distinguish between competing models given the observations I can make in the real world?

In addition to being able to ask these types of questions, the simudidact solidifies their understanding of the model by actually building it.

So go on, get simudidactic and learn via simulation!